Cablegate: Red-Dead Project Feasibility Study Slowly

Published: Thu 22 Dec 2005 06:46 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
220646Z Dec 05
State Pass USAID/ANE
Interior for USGS and for BuRec/International
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Red-Dead Project Feasibility Study Slowly
Attracting Funds
1. (U) Summary: Representatives from Jordan, Israel, the
Palestinian Authority and the World Bank presented an
overview and prospectus on the "Red-Dead" project to Amman-
based ambassadors of key potential donor countries on
December 15. The World Bank said the Netherlands is now a
confirmed donor to the $15.5 million feasibility study,
joining the US and France, and that Japan, Spain and Finland
are likely to sign on. End summary.
Parties Stress Water Shortage, Cultural Heritage, Politics
--------------------------------------------- -------------
2. (U) Jordanian Minister of Water and Irrigation Zafer
Alem hosted the meeting. MFA Deputy Director General for
Middle Eastern Affairs Jacob Keidar represented Israel,
Deputy Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Omar
Kitarneh represented the Palestinian Authority, and Lead
Water Specialist Vahid Alavian represented the World Bank.
3. (U) Alem, new to the Minister's office but an old hand
at regional water issues, led the briefing. He described
the plight of the fast-shrinking Dead Sea, its economic and
cultural value, and gave a technical overview of the "Red-
Dead" water conveyance project. The project is intended to
take seawater from the Red Sea at Aqaba to replenish the
Dead Sea and provide desalinated water to Jordan. Alem said
that the project will cost billions of dollars but provided
no specifics.
4. (U) Alem, Keidar and Kitarneh made similar points in
their presentations, specifically that fresh water is
critically scarce in the Middle East, that the Dead Sea has
been dropping rapidly over the past forty years, that the
Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley are unique cultural
treasures, and that this project is an opportunity for close
cooperation between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian
Authority. Alem also highlighted the economic benefits of
the Dead Sea as a locus for tourism, as the center of a
beautiful natural landscape, and as a source for minerals
and mineral-based beauty products. Note: The Dead Sea-based
minerals industry is a major cause of the dropping water
level according to Alem, since they pump Dead Sea water into
evaporation ponds to extract the minerals. End note.
Two-Year Negotiation Over Feasibility Study TOR
--------------------------------------------- --
5. (U) BACKGROUND: The concept of moving Red Sea water to
the Dead Sea has been around for years. The core parties
negotiated for two years to establish terms of references
for a feasibility study for Red-Dead. They initialed an
agreement on April 19 of this year, and submitted a letter
signed by all three parties to the World Bank on May 5. The
letter noted their agreement on the terms of reference, and
asked the World Bank to coordinate financing for the study.
The core parties made a presentation about Red-Dead at the
World Economic Forum/Dead Sea on May 22.
6. (U) There is a twelve-member (four per party) steering
committee for the project, and the participants are working
out terms of reference for a Study Management Unit to handle
day-to-day issues in the feasibility study. A panel of 4-5
experts will provide guidance to the steering committee.
World Bank Coordinating Donations
7. (SBU) The World Bank organized a donors meeting on July
4-5 in Paris to solicit funds for the two-year, $15.5
million feasibility study. France announced at that meeting
that it will contribute 3 million euros. The USG announced
shortly afterwards that it will contribute $1.5 million.
Alavian said at the Amman meeting that the Netherlands will
contribute to the feasibility study, that end-stage
negotiations are underway with Japan, Spain and Finland, and
that other donors are actively considering support for the
project. Note: A contact at the Netherlands Ministry of
Foreign Affairs said later that, in fact, final approval of
the Dutch contribution is imminent but still pending. End
Feasibility Study Promoted as Comprehensive, Independent
--------------------------------------------- -----------
8. (U) At the Amman meeting, Minister Alem and the World
Bank's Vahid Alavian took pains to describe the feasibility
study as comprehensive and participatory. Alavian noted
that the technical analysis and the environment analysis are
done under separate consultancies to promote accurate,
unbiased reporting.
9. (U) Alavian noted that the terms of reference (TOR) for
the feasibility study have still not been made public in
their entirety. He said that the Bank released a summary
version of the TOR at the Paris donors meeting. He
explained that the TOR are highly specific and represent a
tender document. Under World Bank rules, he said, a tender
document cannot be made public until a short list of
potential bidders is created. He said that he expects this
to be done in 2006.
The Problem: Drinking Water, Irrigation Cut Inflow
--------------------------------------------- -----
10. (U) Minister Alem said that the level of the Dead Sea
is now 417 meters (1,370 feet) below sea level, and is
dropping at about one meter (3 feet) per year. It is
reasonable to assume that the salinity level is rising as
the Dead Sea shrinks. Syria, Jordan and Israel all divert
substantial amounts of water from the Jordan River and its
tributaries, which feed the Dead Sea, for drinking water and
11. (U) Minister Alem said the natural level of the Dead
Sea is 395 meters below sea level, or about 1,300 feet.
Alem showed satellite pictures from 1960 and 2005 that
demonstrated the startling decrease in the surface area of
the Dead Sea, which has dropped from about 950 square
kilometers (366 square miles) to 630 square kilometers (243
square miles). He said that inflows to the Dead Sea prior
to the 1960's were about 1,200 million cubic meters a year,
but are less than 450 million cubic meters now. Note:
Regional NGO Friends of the Earth Middle East puts inflows
at less than 100 million cubic meters per year. End note.
The Solution. Or Is It Another Problem?
--------------------------------------------- -
12. (SBU) Jordan advocates Red-Dead as the solution to the
shrinking Dead Sea. The project, according to Alem, would
draw 1.9 billion cubic meters (about 340 billion gallons) of
seawater a year at Aqaba, which sits next to Eilat in Israel
at the top of the Gulf of Aqaba. Aqaba is noted for its
high quality coral reefs. The seawater would first go
through a 160 foot-wide canal for 7 miles. It would then go
into a pipeline and be pumped up to 400 feet above sea
level, then flow downhill by gravity to the Dead Sea. Near
the Dead Sea, the water would flow through turbines to
generate electricity and would then go through a reverse
osmosis desalination plant to produce 850 million cubic
meters per year of fresh water. The briny waste product
from the desalination plant would go into the Dead Sea.
Some environmentalists in Jordan, Israel, the US and Europe
have expressed reservations about the concept given what
they consider to be unknown consequences of the massive
seawater intake on the delicate coral reefs of Aqaba and the
unnatural inflows into the Dead Sea.
13. (SBU) Comment: Jordan is unquestionably anxious to move
ahead with Red-Dead. The multi-decade incubation period for
the idea to get this far, the two-year negotiation over the
terms of reference, and the slow assembly of donors are all
signs that few other parties share Jordan's enthusiasm.
Alavian stated "categorically" that no decision about the
Red-Dead project itself will be made until the feasibility
study is done.
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